Pandasaurus Games has a pretty good record for board games. I already talked about the wonders of Dinosaur Island, but they’ve also published hits like Machi Koro and Wasteland Express Delivery Service.
That’s why I eagerly picked up their latest entry, Coaster Park, as soon as it hit shelves. Competing to build the best roller coasters through bidding, while testing the “physics” with marbles? This concept sounded solid.
The problem isn’t necessarily the core gameplay, which is very basic and fast. Each turn players either start a bidding process for coaster parts (allowing them to build or test their coasters) or buy experts to help in a variety of ways.
Coaster Park ends when there are no more cards in the draw deck, or someone has built a coaster with seven sections. You then do a final check to make sure the coasters work, score them if they do, and whoever has the one with the best hills and rating wins.
The main complaint I have about this aspect of the game is the lack of a proper economy.
The only way to earn money is through the bidding process, which requires you to set a price for a coaster part and hope someone else wants it. If they do, you get the money; if they don’t, however, you’re stuck paying whatever price you declared.
All other actions during a turn cost you money, whether purchasing an expert or testing your coaster. In fact, checking a coaster and even passing can cost you more in the end, as they occur during a bid and we know what happens if no one wants the piece.
Still, this is a minor complaint compared to the most significant flaw: the coasters themselves.
Coaster Park uses cardboard pieces to construct 3D models that players string together to form a roller coaster. Players roll marbles from the launch hills in an attempt to make them crest, jump, and even loop down the path.
First, the concept that “winning” primarily occurs through manual agility and chance is unexpected. I’m not saying there can be no element of randomization; most games have that, which is what often contributes to their replayability.
The problem is this approach to gaming runs contrary to Pandasaurus’ precedent with their other products; not to mention, the box itself lends no hint that the game caters to those who can “roll a marble the best”. Playing Coaster Park was like opening what you thought was Uno, only to find out you’re playing Speed.
Second, those with knowledge of physics and how the hills work have an unfair advantage. Not all pieces work together, and someone with more education may make better guesses and thus outdo the less scientifically-inclined.
Alternately, those who have played the game (or messed with its pieces outside of gameplay) may immediately go for the “winning strategy.” This foreknowledge not only creates sole paths toward victory but also reduces replayability, as everyone who’s played already knows what route to take.
Third, the construction of the pieces is a poor choice and doesn’t lend itself to a good model of coaster physics. While the material is high quality, even the best cardboard warps, and bends, especially as you regularly attach and detach pieces.
Over time, these hills will develop imperfections that interfere with the path and stability of the marble. Although cost efficient, a game of marble physics should probably have used plastic pieces to ensure less degradation and longer life.
Between the simplistic gameplay, poor economy rules, and a “winning” strategy based on dexterity, luck, and foreknowledge, Coaster Park is a huge disappointment given Pandasaurus’ other products. This game would have been the first I’d want my money back; instead, I decided to keep it so my children could play with marbles.
Sadly, this means Coaster Park isn’t really a game, but an overpriced educational kit, like the stuff you buy at museum gift shops.
Coaster Park is on shelves now. 2-4 players, 30-60 minutes, Ages 8+.
I give Coaster Park a sad 2 loop-de-loops out of 5.